Hey there big boys

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

If it is indeed the end of the Swedish sensation era for the Maple Leafs, how about the start of a Russian Revolution?

It was only one day into training camp, but new coach Ron Wilson didn't mind rolling the dice to unveil an intriguing potential first line yesterday at the Ricoh Coliseum. In between towering Russian wingers Alex Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov, Wilson put their pint-sized compatriot Mikhail Grabovski at centre.

It's a role Mats Sundin often played in recent seasons, but with the absence of the former captain, the Leafs need to unearth someone else who can create offence. So why not the 24-year-old speedster from Belarus who was acquired in a July trade with Montreal?

No one is ready to proclaim Grabovski the solution to the expected Leafs power shortage, but by putting him with the two big veterans, Wilson intends to see what he's got.

"I'm not going to say we have expectations," Wilson said after five hours of putting two groups of Leafs hopefuls through their paces. "But we have high hopes for him.

"Sometimes people have to be given an opportunity. If a guy has the skill set to play on the first or second line and he needs to play with good people, that's who he should be playing with. You don't take skill people and throw them on a fourth line with some grinders and expect them to score. It doesn't work that way."

Though Grabovski saw spotty ice time in Montreal, Fletcher became intrigued watching him school the AHL Marlies in a couple of appearances with the Hamilton Bulldogs. In 12 AHL contests last season, he totalled eight goals and 12 assists.

"I'm glad to be here for this chance," Grabovski said in halting English. "I just work hard to show what I can do."

Though he has just nine points in 27 NHL games, Grabovski has shown hints of being a playmaker and makes up for his lack of size with a speed not lost on one of his new linemates.

"He's a skill guy, he's small and he's fast," said Ponikarovsky. "It could be a good mix."

Though they won't play together in tomorrow's pre-season opener against the Sabres, Wilson said the trio will get plenty of opportunity to develop some chemistry throughout training camp.

"I think Grabovski could be a pleasant surprise. I think it could be a tremendous line but there are no guarantees."


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